Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Long is a Book?

from Jacqueline George

How long is a book today? Silly question, as any author can tell you. A book is as long as it needs to be, and that is that.

Except, of course, it isn’t. You write a book and the first thing that happens to your perfect creation is the editor diving in with her scalpel. At least, she uses her scalpel if you are lucky. If she’s feeling mean, she might well go for her fire-axe. VoilĂ , there is your book, shorter and hopefully all the better for it.

The next person with ideas about the length of your book is the publisher. For them, your book is no more than a commodity to be sold, and they know very well that it costs less to produce a short book than a long one. They will have an ideal length in mind and will not even look at anything longer. For some it might be a slim 200 - 250 pages (perhaps 80,000 words maximum). And those are the serious publishers.

Start looking at specific markets, and the sizes get smaller. Romance? No romantic reader can possibly survive more than 50,000 words. Young adults? 50,000 words? You must be joking – everyone knows kids have the attention span of a gold fish. Cut it to 35,000. Unless you can make it into a trilogy. Kids love trilogies and we make three times as much money.

Before long they will have us sending in our manuscripts by SMS. Oops – that’s been done. Japanese publishers are big on books for mobile phones.

Have you considered reducing your book to a novella (10-20,000 words). Modern readers love novellas. No – forget that. Publish a short story instead. Short stories as ebooks are all the rage.

But what about Harry Potter? J K Rowling writes enormous doorstops, and everyone loves them. Ah, well, she’s smart enough to make her own rules, and her readers do like to read, even if they are young.

What am I doing about the problem? I’m hedging my bets. Finishing an 80,000 word story set in Queensland, and experimenting with a 10,000 ebook selling for $1.99 – half the cost of a cup of coffee. Let’s see what the future holds...

©Jacqueline George All rights reserved.

Jacqueline George lives in Cooktown, Far North Queensland. She enjoys the relaxed lifestyle there, and finds plenty of time write books, some of which are far too naughty for her own good.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Jacqueline. I imagine 10,000 word novellas will be popular as e-books. I become impatient with novels over a 100,000 words and avoid them. Laurel